A Comprehensive Guide on Intermittent Fasting and Its Benefits
Traditionally, fasting was something that people strictly did for religious reasons. However, times have changed. These days, many people who have no religious affiliation of any sort choose to do intermittent fasting.
Why? They have become aware that there are certain health benefits from doing this. After all, as they say, “Health is wealth.” More people seem to be seeing the wisdom in preventing diseases than running around for cure or treatment.
What is intermittent fasting? How do you do it? And what are the benefits you could possibly enjoy from doing it? This article should hopefully provide answers to all the questions you might have about this practice.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a way of eating or an eating cycle that involves periods of fasting and non-fasting. It entails scheduling your meals into a defined period and then going without food outside that period.
You might hear some people speaking of it as a form of diet. It is not. Intermittent fasting isn’t so much about changing the kinds of foods you eat. It is more about changing the time you eat them.
This form of fasting isn’t set in stone or doesn’t have to be done in a fixed way. There are diverse approaches people do it.
While fasting has been part of some religions for centuries, most people only started to become interested in it strictly for health purposes less than a decade ago.
Intermittent fasting became especially popular when it was featured in the BBC2 documentary Eat, Fast and Live Longer in 2012. A number of best-selling books helped to spread its potential benefits further abroad.
What are those benefits you may expect from doing this form of fasting? We consider some of these next.
What You May Benefit from Intermittent Fasting
This was arguably the reason that first made this form of fasting popular. Therefore, hardly would you see people talk about it without mentioning this benefit.
Research shows that intermittent fasting can help you lose pounds. Several studies are still being done on this.
In a 2018 review, researchers noted that it helps because of a reduction in calories. It was found that obese individuals who reduced their calorie intake for 1-6 days per week for a duration of, at least, 12 weeks lost about 15 pounds, on average.
Your body converts carbohydrates into glucose when you eat. The latter helps to provide immediate energy that your cells need. Excess energy may also be converted into fat and stored for later use.
In a fasted state, your body turns to the stored fat to provide energy for the cells. This is because glucose is now lacking.
Fat in the body that would otherwise have remained stored up when you are normally fed is eliminated through intermittent fasting. This can promote weight loss.
Another way to look at this benefit is that your insulin levels drop in a fasted state. This causes fat cells to release stored glucose for energy.
Growth hormone boost
We have all heard of the amazing benefits one can get from human growth hormone (HGH). Well, many people have. These include weight loss, muscle building, and anti-aging.
It has emerged that intermittent fasting may help boost the levels of this important hormone, which typically drop as people get older. Its production is believed to surge when you are not in a fed state.
Intermittent fasting has been reported as boosting HGH levels by up to 2000%! That was after 24 hours of fasting. There are even those who claim it increased levels up to 3000%.
Variants suggested by experts require having your last meal of the day at least 1-3 hours before bedtime. This is helpful for increasing growth hormone levels in that it keeps blood sugar from impeding spikes in production that occur while you sleep.
With intermittent fasting, you may get help in steering clear of Type 2 diabetes. This is because of how it helps you to stay in better control of your blood sugar levels. It protects against obesity, a major contributor to insulin resistance.
Researchers noted in a review published in Translational Research in 2014 that this form of fasting had potential to help weight loss and lower the risk of diabetes.
There is evidence that intermittent fasting may reduce your risk of having cancer. Studies done in animals suggest that it has the potential to inhibit the growth of tumors.
This may be in connection with how it helps combat overweight and obesity. It has been observed that being obese increases a person’s risk of having several forms of cancer.
Delay of tumor growth may also be due to the effect of fasting on insulin levels, inflammation, and other biological factors.
Brain function enhancement
Based on observed effects in mice, your brain health may get a boost from intermittent fasting. Researchers have found that it can help fight inflammation in the brain.
Inflammation has been identified as a factor in the incidence of neurological disorders. Intermittent fasting may reduce your risk of stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, among others.
It’s been observed that this practice may help people find learning new things easier. It could also make it easier for retaining information for longer.
Heart health boost
Researchers have been studying possible effects on cardiovascular biomarkers, such as triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure. The evidence available so far looks promising.
Intermittent fasting may help reduce levels of triglycerides, a form of blood fat linked to heart disease. It could also assist in lowering “bad” cholesterol, heart rate and blood pressure.
It is not surprising then that intermittent fasting may promote longevity, going by these benefits. Since several decades ago, researchers have observed that it helped mice to live longer. One may expect a similar effect in humans.
How to Do Intermittent Fasting
There are different plans or approaches people use when it comes to this form of fasting. But they practically fall into two broad categories: whole-day and time-restricted fasting.
As the name suggests, this involves going without food for a whole day. You will not eat for a period of 24 hours. Examples include alternate-day, weekly and monthly fasting.
This basically involves fasting for a 24-hour period and then following that with another 24 hours of feeding. For example, you may stop eating by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, break the fast by 7 p.m. on Wednesday, and then resume your fast by 7 p.m. on Thursday.
This approach appears to be the most commonly used by researchers. But the idea of skipping a meal for 24-hours regular doesn’t help its popularity among those who do intermittent fasting.
This is easier, compared to alternate day fasting. It requires 24-hour fasting for a lower number of days. You could fast for just a day or two in a week.
An example is the 5:2 diet. This involves maintaining your regular schedule of meals for five days in a week and doing total or modified fasting on two days.
This approach to whole-day intermittent fasting is even easier than the weekly option. You only need to fast for a 24-hour period only once a month.
This is probably the best way to start if you are afraid you might die when you do intermittent fasting. There are still many benefits to enjoy when you do this.
This form of intermittent fasting takes the form of only eating during a specific period each day. Hence, you could basically describe it as daily partial fasting.
There are several variants of time-restricted feeding (TRF). You should determine which one works for you and try to stick to it.
A common type of TRF involves fasting for 16 hours and fitting your meals within the remaining eight hours of the day. You could, for instance, begin your fast by 7 p.m. on a day and break it the following day by 11 a.m. From then on, you can continue to eat until 7 p.m. when resuming your fasting.
According to experts, restricting your daily period of eating to 10 hours is also effective, in case eight hours is too restrictive for you.
The easiest form only requires you to fast for 12 hours every day.
The type of TRF that works for each person may vary. It is better to use a method that you will be able to sustain long-term.
Keeping it Simple
Some people may say or be afraid that fasting could kill them. That’s not true. Taking the first step is the most difficult part.
If you find a variant that is suitable, you’d realize that there is nothing very hard about intermittent fasting. Many people can easily work with the TRF variants. For instance, we don’t think a 10-hour eating window will be too hard to adopt.
Some medical experts say the timing of meals is a major factor that determines how beneficial you will find intermittent fasting. You should aim at having your last meal each day earlier.
Some University of Alabama researchers found that obese men with prediabetes who restricted daily feeding to eight hours and had their last meal of the day by 3 p.m. showed greater improvement than counterparts who maintained a 12-hour eating window with last meal of the day at 7 p.m. The eight-hour group showed significantly better insulin sensitivity, reduced appetite, and lower blood pressure.
In addition to choosing an intermittent fasting variant that is sustainable, you should also try to avoid:
Sugar – Yes, most of us like sweet things. But it is very important to avoid refined sugars and grains as much as possible. Instead, fill your diet with fresh fruits, colorful vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins, and whole grains.
Eating close to bedtime – It is advisable to have your last meals of the day latest by 8 p.m., if possible. And you should eat nothing again before going to bed. Eating late at night can increase your risk of suffering obesity and diabetes, among other possible issues.
Sedentary lifestyle – To make the most of your fasting, it is important to always make conscious efforts to be active. It is better to use the stairs more often instead of the lift. You should consider strength training as well.
We need to mention here that intermittent fasting is not suitable for everyone. It is important to take your medical history into consideration before starting. Speak to your doctor first.
It may be risky for people with a history of eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, to fast. Also, pregnant or nursing women and individuals with advanced diabetes or taking diabetes medications should only attempt it under medical supervision.
Possible side effects you may experience when doing intermittent fasting include:
- Persistent feeling of weakness
Malnutrition is possible in the long term, especially if you are being too aggressive and less careful about it. You may also become more vulnerable to infectious diseases as a result.
Intermittent fasting can be really beneficial to your health if you get it right. This is based on available evidence and reports. People often talk about how it helped them shed pounds. Companies are even now trying to cash in on the trend.
There is still some level of uncertainty on some of its supposed benefits, though. Scientists are continuing the investigation on them.
Most findings available for now are from animal studies. There is a need to understand how much such applies to humans.
- Intermittent fasting: Surprising update – Harvard Health Blog – Harvard Health Publishing
- Potential Benefits and Harms of Intermittent Energy Restriction and Intermittent Fasting Amongst Obese, Overweight and Normal Weight Subjects—A Narrative Review of Human and Animal Evidence
- Intermittent Fasting: The Choice for a Healthier Lifestyle